When the semiannual Korea-U.S. West Coast Strategic Forum convened in Seoul in late 2010, North Korea had just attacked South Korea’s Yeonpyeong Island and revealed to American experts its work on a nuclear enrichment facility. These events capped a year that also witnessed the alleged sinking by North Korea of the South Korean naval vessel Cheonan and telling signs of succession preparations underway in North Korea. There have been no major incidents in recent months, but these events and the uncertainty they engendered weigh heavily in the minds of Korea observers and officials in South Korea and the United States.
Views on North Korea’s intentions and domestic political situation are mixed, as are voices on the appropriate U.S. and South Korean response to the events of 2010. These issues fit within a greater discussion of the U.S.-South Korea alliance and the Northeast Asia region wherein China plays a major economic and political role. The most recent Forum, held June 2011 at the Walter. H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center (Shorenstein APARC), provided an arena for informed, policy-oriented discussion of major peninsular and regional issues impacting South Korea and the United States.
Twenty subject experts and former senior officials from the United States and South Korea gathered at Stanford University on June 8 for an exchange of views. Amidst a diversity of opinions, collectively the participants expressed a wish for regional stability and the continued need for a strong U.S.-South Korea alliance in order to achieve it. The full executive report of this sixth session of the Forum is now available online, and includes discussion of:
- The current state of North Korea’s nuclear program and possible scenarios for reducing the risk of proliferation
- North Korea’s 2010 military actions and increasingly strong rhetoric toward South Korea since, especially in relation to its domestic political situation and the impending succession
- China’s response to North Korea last year and the complex relationship between the two countries, including Kim Jong Il’s frequent recent visits to China
- Northeast Asian regional cooperation with a focus on the South Korean-Chinese-Japanese leaders’ summit
- The factor of U.S., South Korean, and Chinese domestic politics in shaping policy toward North Korea, and the upcoming U.S. and South Korean elections
- The U.S. security role on the Korean Peninsula and in greater Northeast Asia
The Korea-U.S. West Coast Strategic Forum was established in 2006 by Shorenstein APARC to serve as an ongoing forum for the exchange of views on issues of significance to the U.S.-South Korea alliance. Co-sponsored with the Sejong Institute, a leading South Korean think tank, the Forum alternates between Stanford and Seoul. Summaries and agendas from past Forums are available on the Shorenstein APARC website.